Can I make accessible web pages using web authoring tools such as FrontPage and Dreamweaver?

Employers and organizations utilize a wide variety of authoring tools to create Web sites. In virtually every category of computer software, if content can be created, it can be saved or exported as HTML. Many web authors simply convert the content of their word processing, spreadsheet or graphics files into HTML markup. Unfortunately, much of this web content is inaccessible to users with disabilities due to the inclusion of extraneous "junk code" that is generated by these programs.

Generally, the best software tools for creating web pages are those that specifically fall under the product category web authoring tools, rather than tools for which website creation is a secondary function. Two of the more popular products in this category are Adobe Dreamweaver™ and Microsoft FrontPage™ (discontinued in late 2006). Each of these products allows web authors to create accessible web pages. However, it is equally possible for web authors to create inaccessible web pages with these products.

There are currently no web authoring tools that support accessible design techniques exclusively from the graphic user interface. Some techniques, such as adding equivalent 'Alt' text to images, can be accomplished simply by filling out fields in dialog boxes. However, other techniques, such as those required for making tables and forms accessible, require that developers make modifications directly to the HTML code (See article: 'How can data tables be made accessible?').

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 (ATAG). The ATAG require authoring tools to support accessible authoring practices, generate standard markup, support the creation of accessible content, provide ways of checking and correcting inaccessible content, integrate accessibility solutions into the overall "look and feel", promote accessibility in help and documentation, and ensure that the authoring tool itself is accessible to authors with disabilities. A Checklist of Checkpoints for Authoring Tool Accessibility is included as an appendix to the ATAG and is available in either tabular form or list form. For conformance evaluations based on these guidelines, consult the W3C report Authoring Tool Accessibility Conformance Evaluations. Note that authoring tools frequently release upgrades, and product evaluations may not necessarily reflect the accessibility of current product releases.

WebAIM has developed tutorials on how to develop accessible content using both FrontPage or Dreamweaver. Neither of these tutorials covers the latest versions of the authoring tools, but each presents a useful framework for understanding the accessibility issues with these and similar products. For more information, consult the documents Using FrontPage 2003 to Create Accessible Content and How to Make Accessible Web Content Using Dreamweaver.

Additional information is available from vendors regarding the accessibility of their products. Adobe has released an online guide to the accessibility features in Dreamweaver CS4, with a variety of other links and suggestions on how to use these features.